What are digital marketing impressions?

Digital marketing impressions, also known as ad views, describe the moment at which an ad is loaded on a web page.

What Do Impressions Mean in Digital Marketing?

The definition of a digital marketing impression (sometimes referred to as an ad view) is the point at which an ad is loaded on a web page. An “impression” represents an opportunity of an advertisement to be seen, heard, or make an influence on a potential consumer. In the tangible world, impressions might be glanced on the side of the road as a billboard, or played in the background on the radio. 

In today’s digital world, impressions are the ads or links loaded on a website, search engine results page (SERP), or on a social media feed. This type of marketing isn’t based on immediate action such as clicks or conversions, but is typically used to build brand awareness or familiarity by hosting links and ads in a relatable context, in a market with traffic valuable to the brand or concept.

What Are Impressions?

If you drive along the highway and pass a billboard, you may, or may not have had the chance to read it, but it was there, nevertheless. The same goes for impressions. An impression is not dependant on a click or interaction, it is simply accounted for by the occurrence of the ad loading on a page. 

While impressions are often used to measure the visibility of an online ad, impressions also count how frequently a page is displayed in a SERP. If a piece of content ranks at the bottom of page one in the search results, it may not get much traffic, but every time that SERP loads it will be counted as an impression. These impressions can be a strong sign of authority and can reflect that Google views the content as being high quality, even if it doesn’t drive organic traffic.

The value of impressions are difficult to assess due to a variety of influences; did the user scroll to where the ad was placed, did the ad fully load, did the page fully load, and any other number of qualifiers.

Tracking Impressions to Measure Success

The success of an impressions marketing campaign may not always result in conversion, but tracking impressions can help give an advertiser a better understanding of how visible ads are, and how many views are gained with the strategy they are using. This data is highly valuable when constructing other digital marketing campaigns such as search engine marketing (SEM) and pay-per-click (PPC) campaigns, or when evaluating the effects of a search engine optimization audit, and/or SEO campaign with performance ranking results. 

If operating correctly, both SEM and PPC campaigns, as well as a well-performing SEO campaign, should increase impressions. Impressions may also provide a great insight into the click-through rate of a particular campaign.

Impressions have been divided into two forms: served impressions and viewable impressions.

Served Impressions

The standard for calculating an impression is measured when the advertisement or link is fetched and loaded on a web page. The metric associated with accounting for served impressions is easy to calculate, as the data is highly trackable by the server— did it load, or did it not. 

The difficulty of accounting for impression value using this method is that it does not include the actual display of the ad, or define the impact of the impression on the viewer. The analysis does not incorporate whether the ad was in a viewable location, or actually seen by the consumer, it merely registers that the ad was fetched and the load was initiated. 

Served impressions may include a page that the viewer closed before the ad completed loading, or perhaps the viewer scrolled past the ad before it fully loaded. Other impressions that are included in the views, yet have no marketing value, could be a page with ad-blocking software enabled, a page opened by a robot (proxy server, crawler, spider, or fraudulent click bot), a website with mobile incompatibilities, or broken plug-ins that prevent the ad from being displayed.

Viewable Impressions

The Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB), Association of National Advertisers (ANA), and the American Association of Advertising Agencies (4A’s) have combined forces to create a cross-industry initiative Making Measurement Make Sense (3MS). The foundation of the 3MS framework is rooted not only in defining the viewable impressions for digital ads, but transitioning the advertising market to defining impressions within a spectrum of viewability rather than server calculations. 

Viewable impressions are much more valuable to an advertiser. With viewable impressions, the data collected around a campaign is more likely to have been witnessed by a human, is highly actionable in incorporating improvements within the campaign, and increases the capacity of the ad to build brand awareness.

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How Are Ad Impressions Measured?

Ad impressions are measured by the number of times a server fetches the advertisement and loads it on a page. These calculations influence how much an advertiser pays per impression.


Impressions may be paid directly to a website owner at a cost per impression (CPI). A company that wishes to sell a product to a very specific market may wish to host advertisements on a website that is an authority on the subject matter and may choose to place an ad and pay per impression.

Advertising Cost ÷ Number of Impressions = Cost Per Impression 


Cost per thousand (CPM) refers to the advertising bought on the basis of 1,000 impressions. It is the most common ad impression model used and is used with search engines as well as social media. The server logs the total number of times an ad has been loaded, and the advertiser pays per 1,000 impressions. 

(Cost of Advertising ÷ Total Number of Impressions) x 1000= CPM

Impression Counting Discrepancies and Fraud

Impression counts are typically taken with a grain of salt considering the variety of discrepancies. For example, a person could open the same page ten times, and each one of those views would be included in the calculation of impressions. Perhaps a person opens multiple tabs, but then does not look through all of them; every advertisement on those unseen tabs would receive an impression, though they were never viewed.

Measures are taken against click fraud and robotic activity to attempt to filter the number of non-human views on webpages that would skew the number of impressions logged, but no filter is fail-proof. Impression fraud still heartily exists and is increasing in its complexity and ability to resemble human actions, according to the Bot Baseline 2016-2017 report from Whiteops. The report also noted that about 20% of all domains are sites built specifically for bot fraud. Impression fraud sites may indulge in pixel stuffing, ad stacking, and building sites specifically to farm fraudulent traffic and impressions. 

Paying for and utilizing impression data is a valuable tool that can help build brand awareness and market a specific campaign. Impressions can show valuable insight into what keywords are being used in the ads, what links are being reacted to, and what markets are valuable for advertisers. However, impressions should be purchased and analyzed with a note of caution and a level of understanding of the data.